Public service feted in National Archives quilt display

By Curt Yeomans


Sixteen quilts on display, at the Morrow-based National Archives at Atlanta, through the end of this month pay homage to a variety of public servants, ranging from members of the military, to police officers and firefighters, and even to people who worked on the Underground Railroad in the 19th Century.

The Celebration Quilts project was created by Gaetana Marshall, the state lead for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' regional office in Atlanta, and Danielle Lucas, a health insurance specialist for the same agency's Atlanta office.

The pair formulated the project during their participation in the Atlanta Federal Executive Board Leadership Program earlier this year. According to Marshall, they got employees from 20 federal departments and agencies to speak to senior citizens at various centers around Fulton County about their jobs. The agencies included: the U.S. Secret Service, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Labor, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the National Archives at Atlanta.

Afterwards, the seniors were asked to make quilts that recognized some form of public service, based on what they had heard from the federal employees, Marshall said. The quilts went on display at the beginning of this week, but a formal premier ceremony was held on Thursday.

"We charged the seniors to think about public servants, and the work they do for the public, and then to make quilts that honored those people," Marshall said. "And, so this is the outcome ... These seniors put a lot of time and care into making these quilts, and I'm very pleased with how it turned out."

The premier ceremony was emceed by WSB-TV's "People 2 People" host, Jocelyn Dorsey. Joseph L. Roberts, pastor emeritus of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, gave the keynote address.

As the ceremony went on in the National Archives meeting room, the quilts were on display in the back of the room. Some were made by one person, while others were group efforts that included as many as 20 people.

Roberts said the quilts told stories of the people who made them. "I think what you have shown us is that, if people put their hearts together, and their minds together, they can accomplish anything," he said. "It can reveal something about the person who made it. They can celebrate birth, life, and sometimes, memorialize death."

Amin Cyntje, program manager for communications for the Washington D.C.-based Partnership for Public Service, urged the seniors to act as a starting point for creating a sense that public servants need to be recognized more often. "I ask that you instill this notion that public service is something that should be honored," Cyntje said.

After the ceremony, National Archives at Atlanta Public Programs Specialist Mary Evelyn Tomlin said quilting is important from a historical standpoint, not just from the view of honoring public servants. "There's so much history tied up in them," Tomlin said. "Sometimes, making a quilt is a way of telling a family's history ... I think it's very natural for us to have these quilts on display here."

First-, second-, and third-place ribbons were given for three quilts deemed to be the best made for the project. The third-place ribbon was given to 20 seniors from the Harriet G. Darnell Senior Multipurpose Center in Atlanta, for an "Underground" quilt that included panels which showed the different symbols used to guide runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

The second-place ribbon was given to eight seniors from the H.J. C. Bowden Senior Multipurpose Facility in East Point, for their "Honoring our Servicemen" quilt. It included panels with screenprint images of military personnel related to the makers of the quilt.

The first-place ribbon was given to 20 seniors from the H.C.J. Bowden Senior Multipurpose Facility, for their "Hats Across America" quilt with panels featuring embroidered hats worn by various public servants, including nurses, police officers, and firemen.

Atlanta resident, Betty Byrd, 69, one of the seniors who made the "Honoring our Servicemen" quilt, said the group wanted to honor the legacy of the centuries of service to the country by members of the military. "We just thought about their heritage, and what our families have done to support our country by fighting to keep it safe," Byrd said.

The National Archives at Atlanta is located at 5780 Jonesboro Road in Morrow. The quilts display will close on Sept. 30.